As my body ages, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid facing the issue of identity.  Where do I locate my sense of identity?

On June 28, Ian Brown reflected in his diary on a conversation with his twenty-one-year-old daughter. He writes,

I could see her moderating her ideas as we spoke; I could see her taking everyone’s ideas into consideration, and trying to get to a position with which she could feel comfortable. That’s what young brains do.

But then Brown goes on to contrast the way his own mind works as he ages.

I was like that once, but I am more resistant now, more stubborn, less willing to change my opinion, because… because why? Because my identity is wrapped up in these positions. Surely they are who I am? I need them to be, because my body is become unreliable; God forbid that my mental self should waste away as well. And so the cranky old man is born. 133, 134

Mr. Brown, has lost confidence in his physical ability to serve as an adequate vehicle to reassure him that he has a worthwhile identity. He laments,

I know what fiftyish women mean when they say they have become invisible, but I do not know what fiftyish women mean when they say the prefer invisibility. 144

for an infant, the bigger world, the completing world, the world that you want to become part of, is outside you; but when you are aging, the completing world, the world where you will find peace, is inside you, in part because the outside world doesn’t much want you anymore. 54

And so, as he has been forced increasingly to locate his sense of “who I am” in thoughts, concepts, and rational processes he has become more defensive about his ideas and protective of his precious “mental self.” Having found meaning most of his life in his ability to have an impact in “the outside world” and in his scintillating intellect, Mr. Brown is threatened by the world’s increasing disregard as these abilities let him down.

The problem when we locate our identity in anything as transient as physical or mental ability, is that of course these will diminish over time. If I am what I can do, or what I can think, who am I when I can no longer do and when my thinking deteriorates?

Having lost the illusion of a secure sense of identity Mr. Brown is left with nothing much but guilt and regret.

My guilt is the seeping sense that I missed something, that I haven’t lived up to my promise. It’s a form of regret that seems to surround everyone to some extent, for all the popular wisdom about not having any. Regret seems like a flood that is going to strand me, alone. 277

I hate having regrets, but at sixty they show up, sharp and aggressive, like nasty dogs. Regrets, and a fog of guilt, for not having put myself on the line more – for not having made more of an effort… 278

In the apparent absence of any real interior life, Mr. Brown is left stranded “alone” with the feeling he has nothing much to show for his life. His effort has proved inadequate. In the game of life he has been tried and found wanting. Now it is too late to build that impressive resume that might convince him he is truly valuable.

Is it possible there might be another way to travel through the inevitable diminishment of aging? Might the increasing years offer us an opportunity to find a new source of identity, a new way of being that does not depend upon our abilities and achievements? This seems a journey worth exploring.

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